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Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

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The life story Marable presents is essentially the same as the one that Malcolm and Haley told. It is the dramatic tale of a man who was born in Nebraska and became a hustler, a criminal, a convict, a highly effective organizer for the Nation of Islam, a convert to orthodox Islam, a spokesman for pan-Africanism, and finally a martyr to the organization he helped to build. It is a tale of transformation, self-sacrifice, and betrayal, punctuated by memorable, almost Shakespearean turns of phrase: “By any means necessary.” “Such a man is worthy of death.” “Our own black shining prince.”

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What, then, does this biography offer that is unavailable from the “Autobiography?”

Quite a lot, as it turns out. It draws on interviews with friends, colleagues, and family members to offer a variety of viewpoints on the man and his work. It details the social and political context in which Malcolm lived, shedding light on the extraordinary power of the Ku Klux Klan during Malcolm’s childhood, describing the quasi-Islamic organizations that preceded the Nation of Islam, and explaining the beliefs and inner workings of the Nation and of the two organizations that Malcolm founded toward the end of his short life: the Islamic group Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the pan-African Organization for Afro-American Unity. (Malcolm’s political views and plans for the future were to have appeared in three chapters at the end of the Autobiography, which Haley cut before publication.)

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